Book Reviews

AP“Mort makes a fascinating read out of every subject he takes up.” — The Associated Press

Wall Street Journal“Simply as a narrative of Western warfare, Mr. Mort’s lucid, often beautifully written book is a pleasure to read.” — The Wall Street Journal

Booklist“Mort’s attention to detail and contextual richness form an invaluable contribution to Hemingway scholarship and a must-read for Hemingway enthusiasts.” — Booklist

“…an important contribution to Hemingway studies and a noteworthy work of literary history.” — The Hemingway Review

“Terry Mort writes hard boiled detective fiction like we all imagine it was once written…. Mort’s writing is silky smooth and very readable.” ~ Mark Rose, Bookgasm

Publisher's Weekly“A breezy debut noir set in Tinseltown circa 1934. Mort (The Hemingway Patrols) generally keeps the banter-filled proceedings as bubbly as the beverage his handsome protagonist frequent shares with a number of knockouts. Readers will hope to see more of Bruno.” — Publishers Weekly

Booklist“The terms noir and delightful usually aren’t used together, but they pair up happily in this entertaining romp. Mort has fun with noir conventions but never mocks them—a difficult trick to bring off and he does it masterfully.” — Booklist

Publisher's Weekly“This insightful and dramatic tale hinges on the kidnapping of the young son of a white rancher and the ensuing misunderstandings and violence, using it as a means to examine tensions between Native Americans and the United States during the frontier era.” —  Publisher’s Weekly Spring Listings

Publisher's Weekly“This enthralling chronicle of cultural misunderstandings far surpasses the title’s parameters…. Beyond the thrilling tale of the kidnapping and the Apache Wars, Mort’s history is also a meditation on the metaphysical underpinnings of each belligerent’s ways of thinking, and how the differences between them contributed to the viciousness of the conflict.” — Publisher’s Weekly  

Princeton Alumni Weekly
“In Mort’s telling, the story takes on deeper dimensions.”  — Princeton Alumni Weekly

The Star Tribune“Terry Mort provides a riveting account…Drawing on the work of anthropologists as well as historians… ”
Star Tribune

The Tucson Citizen“Well researched and well written, Mort reveals a compelling true story…”
Tucson Citizen

Hudson Valley News
“Terry Mort is an author extraordinare.”
—  Ann LaFarge, Hudson Valley News

“As the author of THE HEMINGWAY PATROLS, Terry Mort knows his subject and has employed many print and on-line sources on Hemingway, his wives, his antebellum and postwar life and experiences, as well as related World War II subjects. The photographic section contains many photos of Hemingway taken with his friends and in the course of his wartime exploits.

For those with an interest in Ernest Hemingway, his wartime experiences or even combat correspondence, this is a well written and insightful book. It provides a look into the mind and attitudes of a man who was more at home with those combat veterans who risked all and whom he admired as part of the masculine fraternity. Yet he held in contempt those who had not been there to risk death and dismemberment and would never command his respect.” — New York Journal of Books

Wall Street Journal“Fierce Echoes From the Frontier — The last Indian wars to ravage the American Southwest made two war chiefs forever renowned.

In essential ways, both Indians and white Americans see their common past as a story shaped by violence, competing martyrdoms and the collision of irreconcilable opposites. In a nation that is often impatient with history, Indians are still dominated by it in a visceral way. Indeed, it is impossible to even begin to understand modern Indians without taking into account the lingering power of events that the rest of the nation has pushed to the margins of memory.

Two new books revisit this dark history with unvarnished accounts of the last Indian wars that ravaged the Southwest, from the 1860s to the 1880s. They focus on a pair of remarkable Indian leaders—both members of far-flung Apache tribes whose ethos of raiding and ferocity in battle was renowned among settled tribes and Anglo-American newcomers alike. Their forces outrode, outwitted and often outfought far larger American and Mexican forces for decades. Both books are compact, crisply written and provocative, and they benefit from being read in tandem, covering as they do much of the same geography and sharing some of the same players, but with little narrative overlap.

“The Wrath of Cochise” builds outward from a single incident, known as the “Bascom Affair,” which occurred in a remote corner of Arizona in 1861. A settler’s ranch had been attacked, his cattle run off and his son kidnapped by Indian raiders. The settler blamed it—unjustly, in author Terry Mort’s view—on Cochise, the leader of a Chiricahua Apache band well known in the region. Invited to meet on neutral ground at a place known as Apache Pass by Lt. George Bascom, a young and impulsive West Point graduate, Cochise arrived expecting a diplomatic parley. Instead, in a shocking breach of frontier protocol, Bascom seized Cochise’s family and killed one of his companions, though Cochise himself managed to escape.

The incident led to more than a decade of warfare between Cochise and the U.S. Army. The numbers involved were never large, usually involving just a few dozen fighters on either side. But the violence was often horrific. Victims of the Apaches were appallingly tortured: One group of hapless teamsters was tied on wagon wheels and roasted alive. Apaches caught by the Army were sometimes summarily lynched, while Indian camps inhabited by women and children were treated as legitimate military targets.

Mr. Mort, a former naval officer, draws an acute contrast between the Anglo and Apache styles of fighting. Americans were trained in tactical doctrines that had barely changed since the time of Napoleon—essentially a combination of artillery preparation followed by infantry assaults with the bayonet. Apache tactics were precisely the opposite, relying on small, fast-moving groups who exploited stealth and concealment and attacked only when they felt certain of victory. Lacking the population to replace men killed, the Apache strove to avoid casualties and were astonished by the Army’s willingness to take losses. They failed to realize that no matter how many Americans they killed, and how many times they eluded their pursuers, they could never prevail, since the U.S. could draw from a vast supply of recruits and resources beyond the Indians’ imagining.

Simply as a narrative of Western warfare, Mr. Mort’s lucid, often beautifully written book is a pleasure to read. But he also poses questions that take his story to a deeper, morally challenging plane: “Why did Bascom do what he did? Why did Cochise, as older man, wise in councils and respected by his tribe, respond the way he did? What historical forces combined to bring them together in Apache Pass . . . ? And if what happened was a tragedy, does that mean it was inevitable?”

In his effort to find answers, Mr. Mort ranges over the wide swath of the Southwest traversed by the highly mobile Chiricahuas and deep into the cultural and spiritual life of the Apaches. He also assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the antebellum American army, the perils of cross-country travel, and many other subjects without losing the thread of the long-running conflict that continued, leaving hundreds of dead on both sides, until 1872, when Cochise surrendered his hopelessly depleted band to the United States.” — The Wall Street Journal

Library Journal“Historian Mort (The Wrath of Cochise: The Bascom Affair and the Origins of the Apache Wars) turns his eye to Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s 1874 expedition through the Black Hills in present-day South Dakota and Wyoming. Unlike Ernest Grafe and Paul Horsted’s guidebook Exploring with Custer: The 1874 Black Hills Expedition, Mort concentrates on Custer’s goldseeking mission on the Great Sioux Reservation; lands that had been formally protected by the Treaty of Fort Laramie as being closed to gold prospectors. However, Custer’s mission was a thinly veiled reconnaissance to find a suitable location for a new military fort. The author documents 19th-century American lust for the Black Hills as an encouraging factor in Custer’s personal quest, and how Custer’s reports of finding abundant gold served to turn public opinion further in his favor. Mort provides a legitimate historic viewpoint sympathetic to Native Americans, in which Custer is the spear point toward the Great Sioux War of 1876 (also called the Black Hills War) and its prominent action, the Battle of the Little Bighorn. VERDICT This highly readable and insightful work is recommended as an essential backstory to Custer’s subsequent downfall at the aforementioned battle.” — Library Journal, March, 2015

Kirkus Review“Mort’s enlightening works about Native Americans are remarkable not only for their depth, but also the poetic beauty of his descriptions of their lives, religions and cultures…. Mort’s delightful prose will entice readers of history, geography, Native American studies and sociology. All will revel in the feeling of being in the Dakotas at the end of the 19th century.” — Starred Kirkus Review

“Terry Mort’s Thieves’ Road offers fresh and unusual insights into our central myth: the winning of the West. In clear, diamond-hard prose, he presents a supremely balanced narrative of the conflict between whites and Native Americans, showing how both were at the mercy of vast, impersonal economic and political forces.” — Philip Caputo, Author of Crossers and The Longest Road

Booklist“In 1848, as a result of victory in the Mexican War, the U.S. acquired vast lands in the Southwest, but the U.S. government also inherited a chronic problem that had plagued Mexico for decades: the inability to contain the constant raiding and other depredations by various bands of Apaches. For the U.S., the problem would ebb and flow but would not be fully resolved for another four decades. Perhaps the most well-known and even admired Apache leader in this struggle was Cochise, who led the Chiricahua band.

His particular dispute with Americans was supposedly triggered by a young and inexperienced lieutenant, Charles Bascom, who unjustly accused Cochise of kidnapping a young boy. Mort has written an absorbing and balanced account of the origins of the conflict that moves past much of the mythology surrounding it.

For example, Cochise, though certainly a charismatic leader of his people, was also a brutal warrior who endorsed torture and the murder of innocents. The U.S. government and white settlers were equally capable of savagery. This is a well-done chronicle of a harsh war fought in a harsh environment.” — Jay Freeman, Booklist, Advanced Review – Uncorrected Proof – Issue: March 15, 2013

An Amazon Best of the Month selection as well as a Book of the Month and History Book Club selection.

“The Hemingway Patrols is modest in length and epic in scope.  Writing in a limpid, economical prose that his subject would admire, Terry Mort tells the story of a little-known period in the life of one of America’s greatest novelists and manages to weave all sorts of disparate threads into a harmonious whole.  Descriptions of submarine warfare and naval battles alternate with insightful commentaries on Hemingway’s art and career and portraits of his troubled marriage to his third wife, the fascinating Martha Gellhorn.  There is even a poetic treatise on celestial navigation.  Like a well designed memory chip, this book crams an awful lot into a small space and does so with elegance and grace.” — Phillip Caputo, Author of A Rumor of War

Kirkus Reviews“A unique biography of Ernest Hemingway’s World War II experience.  At first glance, Hemingway’s decision to volunteer to hunt for German U-boats threatening mercantile ships in the Gulf Stream can easily be absorbed in the author’s tough guy image, especially considering that Pilar was a fishing boat on which he could drink and boss other men around on the navy’s dime.  Yet former navy man Mort’s portrait is far more nuanced.  The author views these patrols as a synthesis of life and art, arguing that Hemingway embodied his own existential Hemingway Hero during these hunts – or quests, as Hemingway himself preferred to call them.  It was a quest that would shape much of Santiago’s saga in The Old Man and the Sea – and to a lesser extent, Islands in the Stream… A rewarding read about the inner workings of an artistic mind – solid fare for Hemingway enthusiasts looking for a fresh perspective.” — Kirkus Reviews

Kirkus Reviews“Mort’s enlightening works about Native Americans are remarkable not only for their depth, but also the poetic beauty of his descriptions of their lives, religions and cultures…. Mort’s delightful prose will entice readers of history, geography, Native American studies and sociology. All will revel in the feeling of being in the Dakotas at the end of the 19th century.” — Starred Kirkus Review

Open Letter Monthly Review“Of all the Muses, Clio is the most fickle toward her clergy. True, Terpischore is tough on the knees, Urania can encourage a sense of personal insignificance, and Euterpe’s people don’t get much work these days, but all those devotees at least know a certain level of divine consistency. Catullus might have received nothing but misery at the hands of Erato, but he also knew he was the best damn love-poet the human race has ever produced, and he knew that all the other love-poets knew it. But history? A writer can study hard at school, acquire second and third languages, spend posture-denting hours poring over yellowing records in basements from Stuttgart to Seattle, estrange loved ones during long hours of composition (hence the cringing, please-don’t-change-the-locks tone of the Acknowledgments section of so many history books), pray late in into the night to find a publisher, and then … and then an unapologetic idiot can hire some drudge to slap together a tissue-thin list of factual errors, slap his name on it, and Killing Patton spends 25 weeks at the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Clio might have a perverse sense of humor, but that’s got to be precious little consolation to her true believers. Terry Mort published The Hemingway Patrols in 2009, and it was a corker of a book, a full-length study of the hare-brained scheme Ernest Hemingway had to hunt German U-boats during World War Two with his yacht. It managed the almost impossible feat of generating the maximum amount of laughter without ever souring the reader toward its subject – Hemingway himself would have loved every page of it. In 2013, Mort published a far darker and more powerful book, The Wrath of Cochise, a grippingly dramatic unearthing of the very human incident that sparked the Apache Wars, which lasted, on and off (but mostly on) for a quarter of a century. These were solid books, books to be proud of, books that taught. They confirmed no stereotypes; they required no ghostwriter; they made no factual errors. His latest book, Thieves’ Road, is his best so far. It tells the story of the large (1000 troops, over 100 wagons, plenty of ordnance) expedition led into the Black Hills of South Dakota in the summer of 1874 by none other than George Armstrong Custer, the flashy, charismatic Brevet Major in the U.S. Army who would achieve – quite unwillingly – immortal fame two years later at the Battle of Little Bighorn. The United States government had signed treaties with the actual inhabitants of the Black Hills, the Sioux, explicitly prohibiting what Custer was doing, but this mattered as little to Custer as it did to the Grant administration back in Washington, for one very simple reason: gold. Prospectors in the Black Hills had been trickling back East telling stories about rich deposits on Indian land, setting off a chain reaction that was as unstoppable as a tidal wave. Mort is richly sardonic about the rumor-mongering: Since so few westerners had actually seen the Black Hills or their reputed riches, the stories told by a few mountain men who had been there gathered mythic status over the years. The Hills were a jewel in an Ethiope’s ear, and the problem was how to disengage the ear from the Ethiope. Or to change the metaphor, westerners felt themselves to be collectively a current day Tantalus, but a Tantalus who was being punished, not by the gods, but by detested eastern bureaucrats – and self-appointed humanitarians and parsons – policy makers who understood neither economics nor the difficulties and dangers endured by the western settlers. Let those eastern Pecksniffs spend a night on the Plains, where there was no help for miles and the darkness went on forever, and let them listen to the howls of the wolves and wonder whether the wolves walked on four legs or two. But the book’s best, most re-readable portions deal with the personalities of the story, from the troopers to the scouts (some of whom would also die at Little Bighorn) to the Eastern politicians and newspapermen, to the Sioux peoples themselves and their manifold contradictions, which Mort captures with a degree of subtlety and narrative strength to rival Francis Parkman: The richness of their mythology and theology should not obscure the fact that they were fierce and generally brutal tribes, enemies not only of the white interlopers but of neighboring and equally brutal tribes from whom they stole horses, territory and sometime even corn, squash and other crops of the more sedentary tribes, like the Arikaras. These raids were an important element in their economy and the social system, for raiding enemies and stealing their horses were the primary ways for a warrior to distinguish himself and so rise in the ranks. (It’s no wonder that Custer admired them, in his way, for the Sioux warrior and Custer defined success in remarkably similar ways – the acclaim of the multitude after success on the battlefield.) The Sioux lived by hunting, by raiding and by gathering – fruits, berries and vegetables – this latter job generally, though not always, assigned to the women. The men did not “work” in the sense that the white civilization understood the term. Nor did they want to. That parenthetical observation about Custer himself is a point of pure, easy genius, and it’s not alone; Thieves’ Road is never more brilliant than when it’s dissecting the man who is by necessity its star player. “Just after the end of the Civil War something happened to Custer,” Mort writes. “The Boy General who was legitimately admired by his troops, witness their copying his red scarf and flamboyant manner, changed into an often cruel martinet.” Two years before that martinet would lead his men into a slaughter he could easily have avoided at Little Bighorn, he led them to all the petty villainies and revolting corruptions of the expedition Mort chronicles so astutely. If Clio were anything like a constant mistress (you don’t see Melpomene arranging Pulitzers for the head writer of The Bold and the Beautiful and leaving Eugene O’Neill muttering in the midlist, do you? She’s a good girl, that Melpomene), Thieves’ Road would be spending the rest of the winter and a chunk of the spring up at the top of all the bestseller lists, and history buffs everywhere would know Terry Mort for the lock-solid sure thing he is. Instead, that spot will probably go to Killing Custer. It’s enough to give an author gray hairs.” — Steve Donoghue, The Open Letter Monthly Review, March, 2015

The Washington Times“If one test of a writer’s skill is to keep the reader turning pages after he guesses the ending, the acid test is to get a reader hooked even though he knows what happens before he opens the book. So it is with the vibrant and readable “Hemingway Patrols: Ernest Hemingway and His Hunt for U-Boats.” Here’s the nut of it: Nothing happens. Read on. The bard of Kilimanjaro might have crafted such a sentence — whittled a grand sumuppance down to that nub: Nothing happens. Hemingway outfits his boat and patrols the Florida Straits early in World War II. Nothing happens out there, but this account of it is told with graceful language, wise argument, intriguing substance, subtle insight — not Hemingway’s but scholar Terry Mort’s language, argument, substance and insight. As this involves Mr. Machismo, all that nothing happens with bluster, noise and excitement. For starters, after Japan attacks Pearl Harbor on the other side of the world, Hemingway launches his own war against the Axis in his 38-foot wooden fishing boat, Pilar. (The name may ring a bell; it was his pet name for his second wife, Pauline, and was what he called one of his earthy heroines in “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”) Having witnessed the Spanish civil war and become a vehement anti-fascist, the man of action wants to join the fray as soon as America enters the global conflict. Living on his trophy farm in Cuba, he persuades the American ambassador in Havana and the FBI chief there (the CIA had not been spawned yet) to let him join the so-called Hooligan Navy, a loose and motley fleet of private boats that did what they could for the war effort.

They couldn’t do much more than perform lookout duty, but our Navy considered it serious business, thought it helped and acknowledged that it was dangerous. (Combatant benefits would be paid to those volunteers who were wounded — and to widows.)

After months of tangling with red tape, Hemingway was issued electronic gear and a fairly crude arsenal of fragmentation grenades and submachine guns. He was assigned an area north of Cuba and proceeded to patrol it, having rehearsed his crew of cronies in a bizarre scenario should they encounter a German submarine. Posing as innocent buddies in a fishing boat (which Pilar was), they would lure the U-boat to the surface, then somehow get close enough to toss grenades down the conning tower and … well, let your imagination finish the script.
If it actually had come to pass, it probably would have been fatal — to Hemingway, his pals and Pilar. U-boats were out there, sinking whatever they encountered from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic.

In fact or in fiction – Mr. Mort cannot be sure — on exactly one occasion, Capt. Hemingway and crew sight what they believe is an unidentified submarine and give chase. But it gets away, if it was there in the first place, and Pilar faithfully returns to its station to perform its tedious duty for months on end into 1943. That’s when nothing happens — as nothing happens when the prizefighter rolls over in his bunk and turns to the wall in “The Killers,” as nothing happens when Santiago outlasts the great marlin, lashes it to his boat and sails home in “The Old Man and the Sea.”
But know this: “The Hemingway Patrols” is a splendid read for those us of a certain age who bore witness as “The Sun Also Rises” and wept after “A Farewell to Arms” and bled during “Death in the Afternoon” and stampeded through the few 100 stories, and visited “Islands in the Stream.” (Full disclosure: I met Hemingway, once, as he neared the summit of his boozy narcissism, and if it wasn’t exactly fun, it was memorable. Later, I wrote part of his obit for another Washington newspaper when we scrambled to meet a deadline after word came that the master of the declarative sentence had taken his own life in Idaho.)

Mr. Mort’s achievement lies in part in his intimate appreciation of his complex subject, doubtless because he studied with Hemingway’s biographer at Princeton, then wrote his thesis on “The Hemingway Hero.” Further, Mr. Mort seems to have gotten inside Hemingway’s head as fisherman, roue and author and into the heads of sundry consorts, particularly Martha Gellhorn, wife du jour during these war years.

Further still, Mr. Mort knows Hemingway’s oeuvre inside and out and honors it for what it is: that piquant product of its time, the heady concoction of action and romance set in exotic places and composed with his signature economy of style.

Finally, Mr. Mort, quite a stylist himself, writes with clarity, a gentle touch and deft choice of words, similes and metaphors. Ms. Gellhorn “was like the submarines her husband would later be searching for — always in need of time to recharge batteries.”

Describing Hemingway as essentially pre-libertarian in his approach to all things political, including the Spanish civil war, Mr. Mort writes, “A person ‘had’ politics. Like a disease. Right or left. Both equally fatal … . Fascism and communism were the twin malignancies of the twentieth century. And both metastasized in Spain.”

It bears mention that Scribner has just issued a revised edition of the posthumous “A Moveable Feast,” this one re-edited by a Hemingway grandson to supplant the version of the unfinished manuscript that Ms. Gellhorn’s successor, Wife IV, Mary Welsh, redacted shortly after the writer’s death. I look forward to it, though it cannot eclipse “The Hemingway Patrols” as a summary biography, for Mr. Mort has written an admirable literary “life” — a critical appreciation of the man and his work as seen through the revealing prism of a few emblematic years.

Philip Kopper, who writes frequently in these pages about history, the arts and the natural world, is our only regular reviewer who was ever pushed into the bullring at Pamplona by Ernest Hemingway. — Phillip Kopper, The Washington Times, August 19, 2009

Publisher's Weekly“One of celebrated novelist Ernest Hemingway’s more quixotic exploits opens a window into his soul in this sprightly biographical study. During WWII, Hemingway and a volunteer crew ran patrols on his boat, Pilar, looking for German submarines along the Cuban coast. They never found any, and his wife, Martha Gellhorn, whose eye-rolling presence pervades the book, deemed the operation just a grandiose excuse to go fishing and drink with cronies. Mort (The Reasonable Art of Fly Fishing) notes that U-boats were a real threat, though he allows that Hemingway’s plan to attack with grenades and tommy guns could only have made the Germans die of laughter. Mort also gives an interesting rundown of the submarine war. But the patrols’ real significance, in his estimation, lies in their resonance with Hemingway’s imagination and literary oeuvre. The resulting analysis can be a bit blunt (“the U-boats were the sharks in The Old Man and the Sea… the bulls in the ring at Pamplona”). But this colorful, subtle portrait offers insights into Hemingway, making him as vivid as his fictional heroes, a tribe of romantic existentialists: domineering, brave, foolhardy, secretly vulnerable, larger than life.” — Publisher’s Weekly, June 1, 2009

AP“Ernest Hemingway, hunting German subs in World War II, may never have seen one, but he thought he did.

He headed straight for the target in his wooden fishing boat with its crew of friends, knowing that a sub’s deck gun could blow them to splinters without wasting a torpedo. It didn’t matter if the sighting was a delusion.
“The search is what matters,” explains author Terry Mort, “the quest, the adventure, the serious purpose, the voluntary service, the fun, the satisfaction of command and comradeship, the joy of being at sea, the craft of seamanship and navigation, the possibility of danger, and the piquancy of not knowing whether it will come, the reality and the metaphor of an unseen enemy suddenly rising.”

What mattered most may have been the almost mystical need Hemingway always felt to stand up against a powerful, menacing – and unidentifiable – “they.”

His 38-foot Pilar wasn’t part of the U.S. Navy. If she had been, alcohol – an important part of its patrols – would not have been allowed aboard. She operated under navy command like hundreds of other volunteer sub-spotters in the Gulf of Mexico.

Hemingway called them the “Hooligan Navy.” Part of their dangerous mission was to explore the maze of keys and mangrove swamp on the Cuban coast in search of spies and clandestine German supply depots. He never found a German.

Mort makes a fascinating read of every subject he takes up. His meticulously written “The Hemingway Patrols” details not only the miserable living conditions and ultimate defeat of the U-boats but also the contempt for the volunteer patrolling felt by Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway’s third wife, who was a noted reporter and novelist herself. They divorced after the war.

Hemingway had an attack plan: Get close enough to throw grenades down the sub’s conning tower. Marine Col. John Thomason told him no U-boat commander would be foolish enough to let him get that close. Hemingway dubbed him “doubting Thomason.”

Hemingway thought the sub he saw may have been unloading spies or saboteurs from a Spanish passenger ship, to be landed on the U.S. coast. But Pilar was not only outgunned, she was also outpaced. The sub – or phantom – had finished its job and moved away before Pilar could approach.

Though Hemingway liked to emphasize his hatred of fakery, he was not one to let facts spoil a good story. His posthumously published book “Islands in the Stream” tells of chasing the survivors of a sunken U-boat among the Cuban keys.” — The Associated Press and the Huffington Post

This week, Terry Mort on Ernest Hemingway’s hare-brained habit of chasing U-boats with a sack full of small bombs.

“It’s interesting how badly prepared we were at the beginning of the war. From 1942 to ‘43, Roosevelt called for volunteers to patrol off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts—as many as a thousand boats were assigned. We didn’t have enough Navy ships to cover these areas. The volunteers became known as the Hooligan Navy.

Hemingway was the only American civilian to patrol off of Cuba, where he was living at the time, and he had to get through a lot of red tape. But he was part of a huge surveillance network in place. You just never knew when the subs were going to come up. When ships in the Hooligan Navy spotted U-boats, they’d call for backup from the military.

But Hemingway had a different plan. If he spotted a U-boat, not only would he call for backup, he wanted to attack the sub himself. So he took some hand grenades and Thompson machine guns with him on his boat. Of course, trying to attack one of the subs was suicidal. If he had tried—if he’d gotten alongside the sub—U-boat captains would have sunk him. They sank anything they saw, even small fishing boats like his. It was suicide.

Hemingway wasn’t a war lover. He hated war. But he also said that once you’re in it, you have to win it. His experience hunting U-boats was a perfect metaphor for how he saw the universe: as something unpredictable, impersonal and lethal.” [As told to Danielle Friedman.] — The Daily Beast

“When World War II broke out, Ernest Hemingway was 40 and living outside Havana at his beloved Finca Vigia with his less beloved third wife Martha Gellhorn. By 1939, Hemingway had reached the summit of his brilliant career, and begun the descent to loneliness and suicide. He had written all of his best books—The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Green Hills of Africa and For Whom the Bell Tolls—and had just been chased out of his Key West house by his ex-(second) wife. After knocking around on Bimini, where he fished the Gulf Stream—“the last wild country there is left”—aboard his yacht Pilar, Hemingway settled on Cuba as the Second World War intensified and the Battle of the Atlantic closed around American and Caribbean waters. Hemingway was faced with a choice. He had written lyrically about World War I, had reported on the Greco-Turkish War for the Toronto Star and had based For Whom the Bell Tolls on his participation in the Spanish Civil War. Many assumed that Hemingway would reprise that role in Europe, but instead he remained in Cuba. Terry Mort’s The Hemingway Patrols is a marvelous book that glints and shimmers like the Caribbean waters. With nothing but contempt for (most) war correspondents—Hemingway and Martha excepted—“Papa” searched for a role that would inject him into the fight and give him an opportunity to toughen up his son Gregory. The Battle of the Atlantic delivered the role and the opportunity. Hemingway would convert Pilar into an anti-submarine Q-ship and hunt the German U-boats that were targeting American shipping. To pinch off the U.S. lifeline to beleaguered Britain, German U-boats were cruising from their French pens across to Cape Hatteras and then south to the Straits of Florida, where they targeted the oil tankers sailing out of the Gulf ports of Texas and Louisiana. In Washington, the brass authorized creation of a “Hooligan Navy” comprised of seagoing volunteers like Hemingway, who would scour the Caribbean waters for German submarines—which cruised mostly on the surface—and then radio in their coordinates to Navy aircraft or destroyers. The hooligans also searched for clandestine German fuel dumps, which the U-boats needed in the absence of tanker ships or “milch cow” tanker subs. For Hemingway, armed only with Tommy guns and hand grenades, it was a marvelous escapade. Martha was skeptical—“adolescent fantasy, mid-life crisis”—but didn’t raise too many obstacles, later allowing that in World War II “the fatal danger was on the sea.” On the sea was where Hemingway also planned to straighten out his 10-year-old son Gregory. Gregory, or “Gigi,” who would later undergo a sex-change operation and become Gloria, was already troubling Papa: “He was just being good while his badness grew inside him.” Hemingway never did sink a U-boat. His patrols were nugatory, but Mort describes the exhilaration felt by all as they roared out from Cuba combing the waters and searching for Nazis.” — Geoffrey Wawro, The Book of the Month Club